Book donation shows that life goes on, post-explosion, at the Morristown & Township Library

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The Morristown & Township Library received a book today that’s sure to appeal to Civil War buffs.

When and where they will be able to read it remains an open question. The book’s donor, retired Superior Court Judge Kenneth MacKenzie, said he hopes the blast-damaged library will re-open for business before next year’s 150th anniversary of Fort Sumter.

The cause of the May 3 explosion, which buckled concrete floors and shattered windows, remains under investigation. Representatives of Jersey Central Power & Light and Travelers Insurance are scheduled to give an update at Tuesday’s council meeting, said Mayor Tim Dougherty.

“It’s not going to be an inquisition. It will be a status report,” said the Mayor, who also plans to meet with the state Board of Public Utilities next week.

JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano declined to discuss details of the investigation prior to next week’s council meeting. He said the utility stands by an earlier statement that suggested a combustible gas created the blast.

Karen Johnson of Public Service Electric & Gas reiterated PSE&G’s prior rebuttal: “We have found nothing to indicate this occurred from any natural gas or from our facilities.” She said it’s likely that PSE&G will attend Tuesday’s meeting. As for the severely damaged library, asbestos must be removed before it can be repaired.

‘EVERYONE HAS BEEN VERY, VERY GENEROUS’

In the meantime, library functions are proceeding at multiple locations. Judge MacKenzie, a member of the North Jersey Civil War Round Table, made his book presentation in a makeshift storage facility at the corner of South and Pine streets. Once home to a kitchen store,  the storefront is owned by Jim Mongey, owner of the Dublin Pub.

Retired Judge Kenneth MacKenzie presents a book about New Jerseyans role in the Civil War to Mary McMahon, left, archivist for the Morristown & Township Library, and Maria Norton, assistant director of the library. The presentation was made in a temporary storage facility owned by Jim Mongey of the Dublin Pub. It's among several temporary locations for library workers in the wake of a May 3 explosion at the library. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Retired Judge Kenneth MacKenzie presents a book about New Jerseyans in the Civil War to Mary McMahon, left, archivist for the Morristown & Township Library, and Maria Norton, assistant director of the library. The presentation was made in a South Street storefront owned by Jim Mongey of the Dublin Pub. It's among several temporary library facilities in the wake of a May 3 explosion at the library. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“Everyone has been very, very generous. Jim Mongey has been more than generous. Both churches have been wonderful. The Morris County Library has been fabulous to us,” said Maria Norton, assistant director of the Morristown & Township Library.

Prior to the blast, some 24,000 items were checked out of the library. The county library is helping process those returns, Maria said. Other Morristown staffers temporarily have relocated to the Parsippany library.

The Morristown library’s book club has been meeting in the Presbyterian Church on South Street.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church has provided office space for library staffers. Library children’s programs will be held in the church undercroft this summer, and a pair of jazz concerts to benefit the library are scheduled in the church’s Great Hall on July 16 and July 23.

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New Jersey's role in the Civil War gets a once-over in a new book, donated to the Morristown & Township Library by retired Superior Court Judge Kenneth MacKenzie. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

And the library Bookmobile plans to visit playgrounds and all three municipal pools in Morristown and Morris Township in the weeks ahead.

“We are doing the best we can, and we’re doing a lot,” Maria said. “It’s very frustrating not being back in our building. The moment we’re allowed back in, we will be, and the moment that we can let the public in, we will.”

A BOOK AND A BUST

On behalf of the Round Table, Judge MacKenzie presented the book: “New Jersey Goes to War, Biographies of 150 New Jerseyans Caught Up in the Struggle of the Civil War, Including Soldiers, Civilians, Men, Women, Heroes, Scoundrels and a Heroic Horse.” It’s edited by Joseph G. Bilby.

One of the more prominent figures in the book is George McClellanAbraham Lincoln eventually relieved the general of his command of the Army of the Potomac, stating, “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”  McClellan ran against Lincoln in 1864 and lost. After the war, he moved to Orange…and was elected governor of New Jersey.

On Saturday at 10 a.m., Judge MacKenzie will further demonstrate his love for local history with a walking tour about the Crime of the Century–the 19th century. He will describe an 1833 triple murder that continues to shock Morristown, in an event sponsored by the Morris County Tourism Bureau. (Nothing like a triple murder to promote tourism!)

With a trace of anxiety, the Judge asked librarians about the status of some famous props from the case–including a bust of killer Antoine LeBlanc–that had been entrusted to the library for safekeeping.

Maria assured the judge that the killer had survived the explosion. The bust, she said, resides in a bank vault.

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